I have worked in schools for my whole career. There is an annual cycle in the life of a school, probably not unlike any corporation (end-of-financial-year, sales, etc.). There are patterns, peaks and troughs in the work cycles and the subsequent stress that goes with them.
Teachers work incredibly hard. At the end of each term people can start to ‘fray around the edges’ as they enter and work through the peak times. Normal behaviours are replaced with shorter tempers, anxiety and stress.
A leader’s role shifts during this time. Listening comes into its own. People will want to ‘unload’ or debrief. They invariably want to raise issues that until now they have been able to manage on their own.
‘Putting out fires’ is an expression that has been used on more than one occasion during these peak times.
It can be hard during these periods not to be drawn into the perception of a looming crisis and remain calm. You can lose a sense of perspective and forget that the same cycle happens each year.
It is a sense of calm that staff need most at this time. They need someone to listen and to assure them that it will be ok; that this period will pass and things will return to normal. And of course there may be some adjustments to the work flow that have to be made to ensure people are looked after.
The best a leader can do during these times is to know yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. If you are being drawn into the ‘looming crisis’, and the symptoms of stress are taking hold, you will be in no place to listen with empathy and provide the sense of stillness that will be the reassurance people need.
When you are stressed, tired and feeling exhausted you are also in no fit state to make good decisions.
There are a few things you can to do look after yourself and get yourself back on an even keel.
If you can, leave a little earlier than normal, block out time in your diary to ensure you can. Get regular exercise to help clear the head. Eat well and ensure you are in bed at a reasonable time.
If this is not possible, then ensure that you have prepared well in advance of the peak time by getting sleep, exercise and eating well. During the peak period you may have to forego the exercise and some sleep, but you can still ensure you eat properly.
Find someone outside of work to debrief with so you aren’t bottling up issues. This will help you relieve the pressure that will be building up.
And if none of these things are helping you then step back from decision-making and ask someone to make them on your behalf, or seek the wise council of a mentor outside the organisation.
Good leaders are able to management themselves effectively, always ensuring that they remain calm and level-head, even under significant pressure.